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on 4 September 2013
Highly recommended for anyone interested in the whole span of European civilisation.

What's incredible is the depth of insight over such a long time, from early European man right through to the end of the 20th century.

This is not a list of kings and queens, battles and conquests. It is a story about how people lived from the top to the bottom of society and how this developed in religious, social, cultural and scientific terms.

Eg how the demands for food and shelter on early hunter groups determined social structures; the chess game of money and power in renaissance Italy that paid for some of the greatest art ever; how American culture dominated so much of the 20th century.

It shows how societies evolved and shaped the continent through centuries of collaboration and conflict.

His tone is balanced, acknowledging greed and exploitation as well as the many achievements that have been made.

And there are lessons for the future in a world that is smaller and more inter-dependent than ever before.

The prologue alone is a great read, examining how our view of history has changed and challenging our very idea of what civilisation is.

There's no need to be an academic or for prior reading and if you've an interest in a certain period you can pick a chapter on its own to give you a hour or two of diversion.

It's just a shame there's no hardcopy version as 500+ pages of dense text in paperback is sometimes an uncomfortable read.

A gem of a book.
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on 4 September 2011
I suspect that most reviews are disproportionately either 1 or 5 star. This is to be expected, people are more likely to put finger to keyboard if they really like or dislike a work rather than one that doesn't induce strong views.
I'm conscious that I'm writing this review long after the main body of reviews have been written so I am concentrating on two points of negative criticism. I suggest anyone reading this read the other reviews on .com or .co.uk also to get a more complete view.

Western racism in general and (white) American racism in particular is a major theme. Far more space is given to the struggles of African-Americans than to those of other disadvantaged groups. The issue is treated in a somewhat black and white manner. On page 470 we are told "whites used every means they could of, including murder, to prevent black voter registration". A word like "some" or even "many" in front of the word "whites" would not have tarred an entire group with the same brush. On page 482 we are told that "African-Americans are seven times more likely to be jailed" without being told what the African-American crime rates are (e.g. that African-Americans commit murder at about seven times the rate at which white Americans do). On page 490 we are told "that African-American society is the source of the overwhelming majority of cultural innovations in the west".
Really?
African-American society has made a hugely disproportionate contribution to innovation in popular music but in what other area can the same be said?
For me Mr Osborne's coverage of post-WW2 is unbalanced as evidenced by the fact that William Calley, Quentin Tarantino and Hype Williams are deemed worthy of mention but not Norman Borlaug, Neil Armstrong or James Watson.

While the Korean War barely rates a mention Vietnam is dealt with in depth. We are told that the war "quickly became a conflict between outsiders - the Americans - and local people" and that Nixon "managed to involve Cambodia". In conclusion we are told that "(B)y the end of the war in 1973, 58,174 Americans had been killed...it is estimated that around one million Vietnamese soldiers and four million civilians lost their lives".
Now for a writer who writes so much about racism Mr Osborne is guilty of treating the anti-communist Vietnamese as non-existent or, at best, "puppets". Non-Western casualties of the Vietnam War are uncertain but for every American killed about 4 or 5 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed. They don't exist for Mr Osborne. The civilian casualties are generally estimated in the 2 million range and no effort is made to guestimate who killed how many of them. Nixon didn't "involve" Cambodia. The communists did. Nixon escalated it.
Most telling is that he thinks the war ended in 1973 not the actual year of 1975. 1973 was the year American troops withdrew as did, so it would seem, Mr Osborne's interest.

Why then the 3 star rating? Well, as I said, I was concentrating on two specific criticisms. Most of the book I find a solid if unspectacular piece of writing.
Perhaps writers of world or civilizational histories might be better advised to end their narrative a few decades before present but perhaps their motive for getting through the first few millennia is to get to give us a piece of their mind at the end.
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on 24 January 2009
I sometimes find that history books tend to leave overwhelmed with minor detail. I end up crying out for just a few clever sentences that really get to the heart of the subject. Well, I had no such complaints with this book. 'Civilization' is a book which is nothing *but* intelligent summaries. It is a high-level roadmap of Western Civilization, which takes in all the strands - art, war, technology, social change - and somehow manages to make it all seem coherent.

Any book which covers such a huge topic, and is as short as this, will inevitably be densely packed with information. But I never found it a dull read. All the big topics, such as major wars, important philosophers and developments in science, get thorough, well-rounded summaries. The descriptions that are given are so much more than just lists of important facts; they explain how the events or ideas in question intertwined and influenced one another, forming parts of larger currents.

In the case of 1939-1945, the focus over 7 or 8 pages is on trying to tease out the motives of Nazi Germany, including the reason for the holocaust and their disasterous venture into Russia. But this does mean that the last 18 months of World War II in Europe are covered in two sentences: "By early 1944.. the talk was of shortening the war, rather than working out how to win it. Allied forces invaded France in June 1944, and Soviet soldiers finally reached Berlin in early May 1945."

Aside from "big" history, Civilization is also a humane book about people - their prejudices, their mindsets, and their cruel mistreatment at the hands of others. In trying to explain a topic, be it religion or war, it will often appeal to human failings and gut instincts. A common thread running throughout is the concern that many supposed advances have taken away from the quality of our everyday existence.

My one complaint is that the cover and introduction seem a bit misleading. Nowhere inside do you get a clear definition of 'civilization', or a defense of an original opinion on the subject. There is the assertion, as we go though the ages, that cave painters and medieval town-dwellers knew something about how to live happily that are now lost to us, but these views are never really defended in a very convincing way.

But don't let this discourage you. I enjoyed Civilization on its own merits as an excellent history book, and I'm sure I will be re-reading and dipping into it for a long time to come.
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on 24 December 2009
Before discovering Roger Osborne's Civilization I initially set out looking for a book that would provide me with a brief description and basic understanding of the history of mans time on earth; I am interested in reading about a number of historical events but often struggle to understand how single events fit into the bigger picture. It was a big ask as I didn't simply want a textbook detailing everything that has ever happened. Roger Osborne's Civilization provided exactly what I wanted and a lot more, it was a fantastic read, how he manages to progress from the beginnings of western civilization right up to the present day without simply listing events is great. The book takes you on a journey through time and the best part is the author not only discusses events that have shaped western civilization but discusses why these events/periods in history occurred, what caused them and the lasting effect they had on our culture, whether economically, culturally or socially. I can't recommend this book enough, it was hard going in places but after reading it I have come away with a much clearer understanding of western history and the influences on our civilization today. I now feel i could easily pick up a book on say the renaissance, the Napoleonic wars, the reformation of the church, the roman empire, the American civil war...etc..to name but a few, and understand how any of these events fit into the 'bigger picture' and the world in which they occurred. Whilst my relatively limited knowledge of history as a subject in general may have prevented me from recognizing the flaws in the arguments presented and despite the fact that the book focuses mainly on western history, I would recommend this book to anyone, it was simply brilliant!
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on 21 February 2010
I have had to buy this book as a core textbook for my History and Social Change module for 1st year Sociology.

We also have to read Harmen's A People's History of The World. Both these books are very good, giving a left wing sociological perspective on Western history, starting from pre-history to modern day.

I'd recommend both these books, as Harmen is more Marxist than Osborne's. They both go hand in hand to give a very broad view on history.
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VINE VOICEon 29 December 2008
The author provides so much descriptive detail in this book that it is frequently difficult to see the wood for the trees or to work out what the content has to do with the concept of 'civilisation'. Given the scope of the enterprise, the writing is inevitably superficial and huge swathes of relevant history are omitted altogether. I also thought that the level of analysis was very thin and that the book scarcely enhanced my understanding of 'civilisation'. In my view this is pretty poor, pseudo-academic writing.
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